The NCAA tournament is about cinderella runs and buzzer-beaters.
At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
But this year the NCAA tournament is about the top programs in each region advancing. Some suffered some close calls, like Duke against UCF and Kentucky against Wofford. Some double-digit seeds, such as No. 12 Oregon, No. 12 Murray State and No. 13 UC Irvine, even advanced to the Second Round. But only No. 12 Oregon managed to win its way past the first weekend and into the Sweet 16.
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Here’s how the Ducks survived:
Oregon held No. 5 Wisconsin to just 54 points when it beat the Badgers in the First Round. Then it hounded UC Irvine to the point the Anteaters only scored 54, too. That's less than the Ducks allowed on average during the regular season and less than No. 1 Virginia, Oregon’s opponent in the Sweet 16, managed to score against its first two opponents in the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin only managed to shoot 33.3 percent from the field and 20 percent on 3s. UC Irvine shot 39.2 percent from the field and 27.8 percent on 3s. And the Ducks don’t even need to dominate the rebounding battle or force opponents to turn the ball over at an alarming rate in order to record noteworthy defensive performances.
Back when Oregon won the Pac-12 tournament title it held Washington to 48 points.
Having a star who can light up the scoreboard is important, but there are teams that have recently been bounced from the NCAA tournament that are prime examples of how sometimes even that isn’t enough. Oregon is advancing because a number of players are hitting their shots and teams have to watch out for more than just one player.
Payton Pritchard, Louis King and Paul White all scored at least 14 points, hit at least two 3s and shot at least 44.4 percent from the field in the win against Wisconsin. Pritchard, King, Kenny Wooten and Ehab Amin then all scored in double figures against UC Irvine.
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Virginia is a talented defensive team. Oregon is going to need all the scorers it can to win and clinch a spot in the Elite Eight.
Oregon wouldn’t have entered its game against UC Irvine on a nine-game winning streak if it didn’t know how to overcome adversity. It wouldn’t have won its conference tournament if it couldn’t do that. And it wouldn’t have been able to bounce back from a blistering UC Irvine run during the second half of their Second Round game if it couldn’t do that.
Of course, some luck plays into this, too. It’s the NCAA tournament, after all. But teams that aren’t mentally tough or able to avoid getting rattled when the game starts to tumble away from them don’t put themselves in position for that luck to benefit them.
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The Ducks are on a run that make them a dangerous opponent for any team they might face the rest of the tournament if they beat the Cavaliers and advance again. Remember, Oregon advanced to the Final Four two years ago and Elite Eight the year before that.